Monday, May 11, 2020

Is the scientific method a ritual?

How do we distinguish ritual from routine from procedural steps? Is perhaps ritual like the latter but imbued with a deeper, perhaps even religious or spiritual meaning? For example, a particular, meaningful ritual I perform regularly is martial arts katas. They are routine, ordered, sequenced procedures that have direct meaning in martial application, but also represent the spiritual aspects of an entire philosophy based on yin-yang and its various permutations as expressed in the hexagrams of the I-Ching. There is also the extensive philosophy and practical application of how performing the art integrates mind, emotions and body, such integration itself providing a spiritual component in our connection with others, culture and the environment. There is deep meaning to practicing this ritual (actually there are several). 

Then there’s some mundane routines that we perform daily, almost always in the same sequence in the same way. E.g., for me bathing is always done in a routine, from showering and cleaning my body from head to toe, to shaving, etc. I usually don’t think of that as having some deep, spiritual purpose but when I give it some though perhaps it too is a ritual in that sense. Like cleaning not just my body of accumulated dirt and sweat, but also washing away mental and emotional baggage by taking a break from it and just focusing on the acts of following a physical procedure. 

And then there’s the scientific method itself, which is certainly a programmed procedure imbued with deep meaning based on a worldview of purported objectivity beyond our idiosyncratic, biased and personal interpretations.* Might we also consider this a ritual? Here is an image of the procedure from this source. 

Bottom line: It seems we humans need rituals to structure experience and give meaning to our lives. But we also need to know when rituals become dogma obstructing new information that impedes our evolution and development. The scientific ritual is a good way to check our assumptions and prejudices to get a better grip on our biases. But even then the scientific method itself might need to undergo periodic updating from an outside source to keep up when new developments that come to light (see footnote).* 

*But is it really completely free of the latter? Might we go seeking something with a particular agenda in our research phase and form a hypothesis based on the predilection? Might we skew the subsequent steps to fit that bias. And on a broader level, even with those replicating the experiment but with similar, inculcated cultural prejudices, also do the same? As we well know, such experimental consensus of the results might become dogma within a community until some outlier proposes different questions and procedures that upset the accepted wisdom, hence complete paradigm shifts in science itself (Kuhn) 

As but one example of that, in highlighting some insights from the metamodern movement Zak Stein noted the following about its view of science: 

"To look at the world holistically, where things such as scientific facts, perspectives, culture and emotions interact (this form of interactivity is called hypercomplexity because it involves not only many interacting units, but interacting perspectives and qualitatively different dimensions of reality, such as subjective vs. objective reality)" (189). 

Also see this post discussing  Kuhn's theory-dependence of observation.

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